NEW YORK – Ford Motor Co. will offer a fire-suppression system as a factory option on its Crown Victoria police interceptors starting with the ’05 model year.

There have been 14 police officers killed as a result of fires in Crown Victorias that have been rear-ended at high speed. (See related story: Police Group Sues Over Ford Cruiser Tanks)

Ford already has installed shields to prevent fuel-tank ruptures in 280,000 of the 350,000 Crown Vic police cars now on the road.

Ford fire-suppressant will aid police in Crown Victoria fires.

Sue Cischke, Ford vice president-environmental and safety engineering, says it likely will take a decade for all Ford police cruisers to be equipped with the fire-suppressant system.

She stresses the system is not designed to extinguish fires. Rather, it's engineered to buy enough time for an officer to escape from a car that catches fire as a result of fuel spillage.

Cischke declines to put a price on how much police departments will have to pay for the system. "It is not an inexpensive system," she says.

The system was designed by Ford engineers working with Aerojet, a division of GenCorp. and a major aerospace/defense contractor specializing in missile and space propulsion, and defense and armaments. Aerojet originally created the system for use in the interior of armored military personnel vehicles.

An Aerojet engineer says the system will use a water-based suppressant and surfactant similar to the AFFF foam used by some fire departments to suppress puddle fires. The foam also will be similar to chemicals used as fire suppressants in military aircraft and vehicles.

The Aerojet spokesman says the final formula has still to be developed. It must be able to withstand the extremes of hot and cold environments. The foam will be contained in a tank that keeps the material under high pressure.

The foam automatically will be deployed when onboard sensors tied into airbag modules detect a high-speed crash – something over a 35 mph (56 km/h) impact. A mere bump from another vehicle will not trigger the foam to spray out.

A dashboard indicator light will signal the device is ready each the time the engine is started, in much the same manner that the airbag system is recognized whenever a vehicle is started.

Once the sensors detect a crash, the foam is forced out of its holding tank at high speed to suppress any burning fuel. A Ford engineer says the foam is deployed in less than a half second and is designed to keep spraying out to suppress back-flash flames after the initial flames are subdued.

Cischke says the system requires a new data bus that will not be available before ’05 models go into production. Ford says the device cannot be retrofitted to existing Crown Victoria police cars. (See related story: Ford Updates Crown Vic P.I.)